How are allergies treated?
Several medicines can be used to treat allergies. Your doctor will help you determine what medicine is best for you depending on your symptoms, age and overall health. These medicines are more useful if you use them before you're exposed to allergens.
Antihistamines help reduce the sneezing, runny nose and itchiness of allergies. They're more useful if you use them before you're exposed to allergens. Some antihistamines come in pill form (some brand names: Zyrtec, Claritin) and some are nasal sprays (brand names: Astelin and Patanase). Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness and dry mouth. Others are less likely to cause these side effects, but some of these require a prescription. Ask your doctor which kind is best for you.
Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, help temporarily relieve the stuffy nose of allergies. Decongestants are found in many medicines and come as pills, nose sprays and nose drops (some brand names: Sudafed, Afrin, Sinex). They are best used only for a short time.
Nose sprays and drops shouldn't be used for more than 3 days because you can become dependent on them. This causes you to feel even more stopped-up when you try to quit using them.
You can buy decongestants without a doctor's prescription. However, decongestants can raise your blood pressure, so it's a good idea to talk to your family doctor before using them, especially if you have high blood pressure.
Cromolyn sodium is a nasal spray (one brand name: NasalCrom) that helps prevent the body's reaction to allergens. Cromolyn sodium is more helpful if you use it before you're exposed to allergens. This medicine may take 2 to 4 weeks to start working. It is available without a prescription.
Nasal steroid sprays reduce the reaction of the nasal tissues to inhaled allergens. This helps relieve the swelling in your nose so that you feel less stopped-up. They are the most effective at treating patients who have chronic symptoms. Nasal steroid sprays are available with a prescription from your doctor. You won't notice their benefits for up to 2 weeks after starting them.
Eye drops. If your other medicines are not helping enough with your itchy, watery eyes, your doctor may prescribe eye drops for you.
Allergy shots or sublingual tablets (also called immunotherapy) are an option for people who try other treatments but still have allergy symptoms. These shots or dissolvable tablets contain a very small amount of the allergen you are allergic to. They're given on a regular schedule so that your body gets used to the allergens and no longer overreacts to them. This helps decrease your body’s sensitivity to the allergen. Over time, your allergy symptoms will become less severe.
Allergy shots or sublingual tablets are only used when the allergens you're sensitive to can be identified and when you can't avoid them. It takes a few months to years to finish treatment, and you may need to have treatments throughout your life.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff